An important issue affecting many established hotels—especially those properties with an aging workforce—is the occurrence of repetitive strain injuries (RSIs). A combined aggravation of both the nervous and musculoskeletal system, an RSI is typically caused by repetitive tasks or those which put the body in an awkward position. There are many different types of RSIs, but as I am not a doctor, the diagnoses and exact syndromes are not the focus here.
Rather, it is vital that all hoteliers recognize how RSIs may develop in a workplace setting so that steps can then be taken to reduce or prevent their occurrence altogether. RSIs can not only hamper an employee’s ability to perform at his or her best, but they can also have a toxic effect on those closest to the afflicted individual. Being a true leader means caring for your team and their health, and thus corrective actions must be taken.
First, identify those areas of your operations that are most prone to RSIs. Next, review what’s available for you as ergonomic solutions. Then incorporate these new best practices into your training initiatives to minimize the incidence of chronic injuries amongst your associates.
If you want to know where RSIs might crop their ugly heads, start by looking in the mirror. Since the advent of typewriters then computers, there has been a steady increase in RSIs associated with the arms, wrists, fingers, shoulders and neck, all attributed to the widespread use of keyboards in the office, which requires long periods of repetitive motions in a fixed, unnatural posture. One of my first assignments in the early 1990s was working for an ergonomic furniture company called Forminco (long since closed). At that time, the concept of lower-than-writing-desk-height keyboard drawers and soft wrist rests were novelties, and often rejected by businesses as hokey.
Nearly three decades later most offices have fully embraced this, adjusting their workstations accordingly. If you have not examined those areas where associates are working continuously on keyboards and made physical space adaptations to make this work more comfortable, there are no excuses as cost-effective retrofit solutions are readily available. Outside of basic wrist pads and gels to prevent carpal tunnel, consider standing desks that also have the option for seated work when an employee wants to rest their feet.
Desk workers using computers are but one area where hoteliers are at risk for RSIs. Most occupational injuries are caused by cumulative injuries rather than a single occurrence—chronic, not acute. Housekeepers, for example, make repeated motions that can lead to muscle, tendon and skeletal injuries. Think about the fact that a typical housekeeper will dress a dozen beds and clean a similar number of bathrooms in a single eight-hour shift. If they are not properly balanced by, say, bending at the knees instead of hinging at the hips, the chance of garnering a lower back or patellar injury is significantly heightened.
What’s important to know about the symptoms for chronic injuries is that they are like putting a toad in cold water then gradually raising the temperature. They start with a dull aching, a slight tingling or extremity weakness. Initially, the sufferer will experience these as only intermittent discomfort, but they will increase in frequency if the causative movements or bodily positions aren’t managed. Many will try to ‘work through it’, especially when they are paid on a shift or credit basis, or if they feel obliged to the rest of their team. In doing so, their work suffers; to avoid pain, they may cut corners and fail to meet SOPs. The indirect results of which can be catastrophic to your business—just imagine the impact on your TripAdvisor scores from improperly cleaned guest bathrooms.
Still others will recognize their injuries and call in sick. And they are! This is not an injury that heals with a few simple pills and a week off, though. Don’t be surprised if the RSI leads to long-term disability. Indeed, as the symptoms progress, the ability for that team member to maintain his or her assigned tasks is drastically reduced.
Caught early, some RSI issues can sometimes resolve themselves if effective treatments, exercise regimens or rehabilitation programs begin immediately and are undertaken with a reasonable frequency for a very long time. Just as an RSI from sitting at a desk five days a week may take a decade to progress to the point where it is incapacitating, you cannot expect such wounds to heal overnight.
In rare cases, more aggressive intervention such as surgery may even be required. Not to scare you, but if you have a loyal but aging workforce, think of the impact on your insurance premiums. As we age, and our bodies succumb to the rigors of prolonged wear and tear, RSI mitigation should be first and foremost on your radar. You should include both your training team and operations staff in designing programs to support your staff and keep them as healthy as can be for as long as they are members of your hotel team.